While the country remembers its veterans this weekend, retired Lt. Gen. John M. Brown III spent Tuesday focusing on what lies ahead for the U.S. Military, specifically a more increased focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
Brown, the brother-in-law of local community leader Doug Bolton, spoke at the combined luncheon of the Covington Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, using his experience as former commander of the U.S. Army's Pacific forces to paint a picture of the world ahead.
President Barack Obama unveiled his new military strategy in January, which called for an increased emphasis in the region, while simultaneously reducing the overall size of the American military from 570,000 to 490,000 and reducing military's $525 billion budget.
"We have a war going on in the Middle East, and we just wrapped up another war over there, and we're talking about problems all over the world, (so) why is the U.S. going to focus on the Asia-Pacific region? I'll try to describe what I think the reasoning is," Brown said.
He said today's army is still focused on winning the War on Terror and combating al-Qaeda's growth, but he noted that there are terrorist forces in the Pacific and that the U.S. needs to be able to be a force in multiple parts of the world, though the new strategy will no longer include multiple ground wars.
Brown said the Asia-Pacific region covers 50 percent of the earth's surface and has 60 percent of the world's population in its 36 nations and the U.S. trade conducts a third of its overall trade in the region. For comparison, 20 percent of U.S. trade is conducted with the European Union.
In addition, Brown said the region has seven of the 10 largest military forces in the world, and the five of the U.S.'s seven peace treaties are with Pacific countries, including Australia, Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
And while China's growth and militaristic expansion is of great significance, when asked, Brown said he believed the U.S.'s next major military action could be against North Korea.
"It is a failing regime, you see it on the news, they're starving most of their people and it's very, very difficult to predict and understand the actions they're going to take," Brown said. "They have used provocations and attacks on South Korea to divert attention away from their failings."
While the U.S. has been able to convince South Korea to not retaliate, Brown that the strong U.S. ally has gotten to the point where it might "finally strike back." While the combined U.S. and South Korean forces would "mop them (North Korea) up", the civilian casualties could be large.
As for China, despite the fact the country spends a reported $95.6 billion on its military (though experts say that number could be more than $160 million), Brown said the country has huge social hurdles to overcome and can't yet deploy its military far outside of its borders. Of course, the country does continue to improve its military and has built strong connections in other countries by having its military build infrastructure free of charge.
Finally, Brown spoke of the need for the U.S. to focus more on developing the quality of its forces and its potential troops. He said 75 percent of people who walk into recruiting offices are not qualified to serve in the military, including 38 percent who are too obese or have another physical disability, 18 percent with illegal drug offenses, 10 percent who cant' meet the mental qualifications, 6 percent who have too many children (dozens in some cases) under the age of 18 and 5 percent with other criminal offenses.
"That doesn't make me very proud as an American and makes me fearful as a soldier and is something we need to address as a nation," Brown said.
He also called on the country to properly equip its troops, stop committing troops to wars without officially declaring war and stop piling up debt to pay for such wars, as has happened in the Middle East. If the county declares war and fully supports those efforts, the U.S. will continue to be successful in its military actions in the decades to come.